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Bob Johnson Planning New TV Network

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Monday, November 24, 2008

"Not Intended to Compete With BET or TV One"

Robert L. Johnson became a billionaire when he sold BET.Robert L. Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television, has asked the Federal Communications Commission to approve plans for a new "urban" television network that would cater to a multicultural audience interested in health, lifestyle, education and other issues, a spokeswoman for Johnson told Journal-isms on Tuesday.

Johnson is joined in his application by Ion Media Networks, Inc., which describes itself as "a network television broadcasting company which owns and operates the largest broadcast television station group in the U.S., as measured by the number of television households ION's stations serve."

The new network is "not intended to compete with BET or TV One," Johnson spokeswoman Traci Otey Blunt said. Plans are open and no staff members have been hired, awaiting FCC approval. The network might even produce news programming, she said. The FCC is not expected to act until winter or early spring, after a period of public comment.

The new company is to be called Urban Television LLC. Johnson is seeking permission to share time on stations owned by Ion, which "was born in 2006 out of the ashes of Pax TV, whose guiding genius Bud Paxson spent the previous decade buying up UHF TV stations for use as the linchpin of a family-oriented broadcast network," as Variety reported in September.

Sharing time on the Ion stations is possible with the advent of digital channels, John Lawson, Ion's executive vice president for policy and strategic initiatives, told Journal-isms.

Unlike in previous decades, when "shared time" meant a second radio station might broadcast on the same frequency at night, today the stations simply share different audio channels on the same frequency; so that a second network could broadcast 24 hours a day. The "shared time" concept was originally created to boost minority access to the airwaves, Lawson said.

"Urban, a new entrant in the broadcasting industry, intends to use the newly
licensed, share-time stations to launch a new programming format, including
informational and issue-focused programming that is targeted to serve the needs and interests of African-American viewers and other underserved members of the 42 communities that are the subject of these applications," the request to the FCC says.

Johnson's company would own 51 percent of the new venture and Ion 49 percent. 

The plans for the urban channel, first reported on Tuesday by TV Newsday, grew out of talks between Johnson and Brandon Burgess, chairman and CEO of Ion Media Networks, Lawson and Blunt said.

"Burgess, who shows faint traces of a German inflection in his voice from his upbringing and education in Germany, is eager to get back into the competitive game after two years of what he calls 'a transition strategy' at Ion (formerly Pax) of filling the network's schedule with inexpensive older series including 'Mama's Family,' 'Baywatch,' 'Wonder Years' and 'Quantum Leap,'" John Dempsey wrote in his September Variety story.

"Not surprisingly, few people are clamoring for this programming lineup; for the first eight months of the year, only 444,000 viewers, on average, watched Ion TV, which dragged it below the ratings of such cable networks as Animal Planet and Lifetime Movie Network."

Johnson, who founded and then sold the Black Entertainment Television network to Viacom for $3 billion in 2000, now owns the Charlotte, N.C., National Basketball Association franchise, the Bobcats.

"As Mr. Johnson tries to recast himself as a mainstream business mogul, his calendar has become very crowded, thanks to a high-powered push to start and buy several companies. That spree has produced a sprawling portfolio of properties, including a hedge fund, a private equity firm, a chain of more than 100 high-end hotels, several commercial banks and savings institutions, a film company and several gambling ventures," Ron Stodghill wrote last year in the New York Times.

'My tombstone will read: 'This is the guy who aired rap videos,' ' Johnson said in that story. 'But you know how I deal with that? I put it where it belongs, which is in the pretty-much-irrelevant category.'

Barbara Walters Interview of Obamas Airs Wednesday

President-elect Barack Obama and Michelle Obama sat down late Tuesday for an exclusive interview with Barbara Walters that willair as a one-hour ABC News special on Wednesday from 10:01 p.m. to 11 p.m. Eastern time, ABC News said.

"The wide-ranging interview will focus on the failing economy, foreign policy, selection of top aides and the Obama family's transition to the White House, among other topics," the network said.

"Excerpts from the interview will air across ABC News platforms including 'Good Morning America,' 'World News with Charles Gibson,' ABC News Radio, ABC News NOW, and ABC NewsOne."

The Obamas' interview with CBS-TV's "60 Minutes" two Sundays ago led to its biggest audience in at least nine years and is still being quoted in news stories and commentaries.


On Economy, Covering from the Sidelines

November 24, 2008 

President-elect Barack Obama names key members of his economic team on Monday. No reporters of color were called upon Monday or Tuesday.

Few Reporters of Color at Obama Presentation

Barack Obama held his second and third news conferences as president-elect on Monday and Tuesday, this time to name the team charged with coming up with a strategy to counter the nation's worst economic crisis in 75 years. As with the first one, no journalists of color were called upon to ask questions, and few were part of the networks' on-air presence.

That could be because of the subject matter — journalists of color are not well represented among economics reporters or among those who covered Obama's presidential campaign for the mainstream media — or because they worked for the wrong news outlets.

"When Barack Obama began taking questions during today's economic press conference, reporters quickly realized that raising one's hand wouldn't lead to getting called on. That's because news outlets were selected beforehand," Michael Calderone wrote Monday on his blog.

"President-elect Obama, according to an aide, went in with 'a game plan' of who to call on, time-permitting. Today, he took questions from reporters with three wire services and three major papers.

"Only the Associated Press and Reuters have asked questions at both post-election briefings, the first of which was held on Nov. 7. Otherwise, it's been a mixed bag."

In the studio, however, MSNBC featured instant commentary from Mark Whitaker, NBC News Washington Bureau chief, and Jonathan Capehart, Washington Post editorial writer, both African Americans. Whitaker returned on Tuesday.

A handful of Chicago black journalists were reported at Monday's news conference, where, "Citing an 'economic crisis of historic proportions,' President-elect Barack Obama urged Congress to pass a costly, job-creating stimulus bill as quickly as possible, a rare pre-inaugural call to action delivered as the outgoing Bush administration approved fresh billions to bail out one of the nation's largest banks," as the Associated Press reported.

Meanwhile, Obama announced his top communications team: Ellen Moran, director of communications; Robert Gibbs, press secretary; and Dan Pfeiffer, deputy director of communications. None is a person of color.

"Good news for those news outlets shut out today," Calderone wrote for Politico on Monday, "there's another press conference scheduled for Tuesday. Same time, same place." [Updated Nov. 25]

Retort to Critics Who Say Media Were "in the Tank"

"So are the all-powerful liberal media responsible for the election of Barack Obama?" Rem Rieder asks in the December/January issue of the American Journalism Review.

"I'm with Shepard Smith on this one.

"The Fox News Channel anchor was listening to a comedian named Nick DiPaolo start to go off on the dreaded Fourth Estate and how it was all 'in the tank' for That One when Smith went off a little himself.

"'Oh, please,' he interjected. 'The mainstream media reflected what was happening in this nation. It did not drive it. The blogs didn't drive this movement. The media didn't drive this movement.'"

". . . The truth is, the Obama campaign was well-organized, disciplined, virtually error-free. Obama was an inspiring candidate to many, a dazzling public speaker with an inspiring storyline.

"The McCain campaign, in contrast, was a train wreck, lurching from message to message. And McCain, who can be an immensely appealing figure, seemed angry and unfocused.

". . . McCain got his negative publicity the old-fashioned way. He earned it."


"First Lady Got Back" Column Draws Flak

Newsweek issue went on sale Monday.While one black woman journalist was promoting her Newsweek cover story on first-lady-to-be Michelle Obama, another was defending a piece that ran on last week headlined, "First lady got back."

Los Angeles columnist Erin Aubry Kaplan maintained that her piece on Obama was making the same point that Allison Samuels did in Newsweek:

"Well, it wasn't really about her butt (though that was a lively starting point, for sure), it was about the psychological impact of having a First Lady who is black and, for the first time in history, who looks like me," Kaplan wrote after receiving 400 responses on before, she suspects, salon cut them off.

"Ultimately, my piece was about removing the lens of white scrutiny and approval from the black gaze and seeing what lies underneath."

Erin Aubry Kaplan isn't backing down.Kaplan appeared on "The Kevin Ross Show," an online call-in, where even African American historian Houston Baker dialed in to defend her against others who said, in essence, "why go there?"

Samuels took a different approach in "The Meaning of Michelle."

"The new First Lady will have the chance to knock down ugly stereotypes about black women and educate the world about American black culture more generally. But perhaps more important — even apart from what her husband can do — Michelle has the power to change the way African-Americans see ourselves, our lives and our possibilities," she wrote.

In Newark, Almost Entire Editorial Board Takes Buyout

Joan Whitlow"As The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. cuts 40% of its news staff through buyouts, it's also losing its entire editorial board, according to John Farmer, the new editorial page editor," Joe Strupp reported Monday for Editor & Publisher. That delclaration was later amended to note that cartoonist Drew Sheneman is remaining.

"Farmer, a 26-year veteran of the paper, confirmed that the board members had all taken the buyout.

"Those include: Fran Dauth, former editorial page editor; Josh McMahon, Op-Ed page editor; Debra Jerome Cohen, deputy editorial page editor; board member Paul Wycoff; Joan Whitlow, columnist and board member; and Fran Wood, columnist and board member."

Whitlow, the remaining journalist of color, told Journal-isms she might work part time for the newspaper. Kathy Carter, another African American who was on the board, started work Nov. 10 as director of strategic communications for Gov. Jon S. Corzine.

Black G.M. Resigns Over Comments on Hispanics

The African American president and general manager of KFSN-TV in Fresno, Calif., resigned Saturday after comments he made about Hispanics, Pablo Lopez reported in the Fresno Bee on Monday.

News director Tracey Watkowski said in a statement, "KFSN-TV has always strived to maintain the highest journalistic standards of fairness and accuracy." Bob Hall "believes the controversy surrounding his recent comments made while being interviewed as a prospective juror would have distracted the television station and the news department from that purpose."

Lopez reported, "Sitting as a potential juror in Fresno County Superior Court early last week, Hall said he couldn't be a fair juror in a Hispanic man's carjacking trial because research by the station's newsroom showed a propensity for Hispanic males to commit violent crimes. He also said the District Attorney's Office wouldn't spend money on these cases unless the defendant were guilty.

"The comments prompted a judge to dismiss not only Hall, but all who heard him — a jury pool of nearly 50 people. Lawyers say such an action is highly unusual.

"In an on-air statement Friday, Hall apologized for his comments. He said he did not intend to imply that his station's newsroom had ever conducted research about minorities and crime."

Hall told Journal-isms on Friday he did not want to comment publicly. Later in the day he issued a statement saying, "Anyone who knows me, knows I don't have a biased bone in my body. I was flustered during the interview process and expressed myself poorly."

Intern "Lost It" After Being Fired from TV Station

This story has already given fodder to the online racists:

"An intern for KSTP-TV did not take well to being fired. She began hurling threats at an executive producer and kicked out the glass of a conference room door in an attempt to get at her, according to a criminal complaint filed Monday," Emily Gurnon began last week in the St. Paul Pioneer-Press.

"Jennifer Nicole Anato-Mensah, 21, a University of Minnesota student, was told about 7:15 p.m. Oct. 13 that things weren't working out for her.

"'This is a young girl who was not understanding concepts in a television newsroom,' said Danielle Prenevost, 33, executive producer of the station's early evening newscasts. 'I said, "I don't think your level of college experience is enough for this job."'

"At that point, Prenevost said, Anato-Mensah 'just lost it.'

"Reached at her U residence hall Tuesday, Anato-Mensah declined to comment.

"According to the criminal complaint:

"Several newsroom employees heard Anato-Mensah shouting, yelling obscenities and threatening Prenevost, saying, 'You don't know where I'm from. I'll mess you up, b ——-.' . . . "

Pat Pheifer of the Star Tribune added: "Anato-Mensah of Blaine has been charged in Ramsey County District Court with misdemeanor criminal damage to property and disorderly conduct in connection with the Oct. 13 incident. Her first court appearance is scheduled for Dec. 30."

Derrick Biney, a junior at the university who edits the Griot, a black campus monthly, told Journal-isms on Tuesday that the news reports were out of character for Anato-Mensah, who has written for the pubication. "I don't know what to make of it," he said. [Updated Nov. 25.]

His Own "Most Embarrassing Black People" List

Tony Norman, editorial page columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, wrote Friday that he misses Aaron McGruder's late "Boondocks" comic strip and its annual "Most Embarrassing Black People Awards." So he came up with his own candidates.

They are: blacks who supported Proposition 8 in California, the Somali pirates, black conservative author Shelby Steele, the King family siblings, failed presidential candidate and former U.N. ambassador Alan Keyes, Bishop Thomas W. Weeks of Global Destiny International Ministries, Kanye West and black men who wear sagging pants. He adds his reasons.

Norman picks Ralph Nader as a candidate for "Honorary Embarrassing Black Person Who Went Where He Shouldn't Have" and al Qaeda's No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, for "Evil Incarnate Terrorist Dude Who Wishes He Had a Few Black Friends."

After Web Suicide, Focus Urged on Mental Illness

"The father of a college student whose suicide was broadcast live over a webcam said Saturday he was appalled by the virtual audience that egged on his son and called for tougher regulation of Internet sites," as Sarah Larimer reported for the Associated Press.

But Herndon Davis Jr., writing on about the death of Abraham Biggs Jr., said the problem is that "Mental illness among African Americans, once kept in the 'closet' of black families is gradually being more openly discussed but not quickly enough as alarming statistics reveal.

"In the past several decades, the suicide rate among young black men has increased more than 100 percent. The American Association of Suicidology reports that suicide is the third leading cause of death among black youth, after homicides and accidents."

Larimer wrote, "Police found Abraham Biggs Jr. dead in his father's bed Wednesday, 12 hours after he first declared on the Web site for bodybuilders that he planned to take his own life. He took a fatal drug overdose in front of an Internet audience. Although some viewers contacted the Web site to notify police, authorities did not reach his house in time."

For Laid-Off Journalists, Free Blog Accounts

"It's a long way from $700 billion, but the media start-up Six Apart is introducing its own economic bailout plan," Jenna Wortham wrote Sunday in the New York Times.

"The TypePad Journalist Bailout Program offers recently terminated bloggers and journalists a free pro account (worth $150 annually) on the company's popular blogging platform. In addition to the free yearly membership, the 20 to 30 journalists who are accepted will receive professional tech support, placement on the company's blog aggregation site,, and automatic enrollment in the company's advertising revenue-sharing program.

"Anil Dash, a former blogger and current vice president at Six Apart, announced the program Nov. 14, shortly after the company made its own staff cuts."

Short Takes

  • "Seeking to fill a niche left by the decline of the traditional news media, the Kaiser Family Foundation is starting a news service to produce in-depth coverage of the policy and politics of health care, both for an independent Web site and in collaborations with mainstream news organizations," Kevin Sack reported Sunday for the New York Times. "With a budget that is expected to reach $3 million to $4 million in two years, the project is one of the most ambitious in a wave of nonprofit online ventures that have emerged as newspapers and magazines cut jobs and newsgathering budgets."
  • "According to a source within the company, The Weather Channel will be cutting 10% of its staff, including on-camera meteorologists Dave Schwartz, Cheryl Lemke, and Eboni Deon," Bob Swanson reported Thursday on his "Weather Guys" blog for USA Today. Andrew Freedman of the "Capital Weather Gang" added Friday on his Washington Post blog that NBC Universal axed "the entire staff of the 'Forecast Earth' environmental program during the middle of NBC's 'Green Week,' as well as several on-camera meteorologists. The layoffs totaled about 10 percent of the workforce, and are among the first major changes made since NBC completed its purchase of the venerable weather network in September."
  • "The 'Today' show's Ann Curry didn't make it to the top of Africa's Mount Kilimanjaro, the Associated Press reported on Thursday. "Altitude sickness and forbidding weather forced the NBC morning show's crew to stop about 3,000 feet short of the 19,000-foot summit. They were climbing to draw attention to environmental problems, and hoped to hit the top for Friday's show. Said Curry: 'Here's the bottom line: I just did not want to live with any one of us having any kind of serious injury just to get us live from the top of this mountain. It just wasn't worth it.'"
  • Keith ReedKeith Reed, Cincinnati Enquirer business reporter, has been named editor of Catalyst Ohio, an independent magazine covering urban education, with a focus on Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus. Reed, 31, said he decided to edit the 13,000-circulation bimonthly because "I'm getting my first opportunity to put my mark on a brand, which has always been a goal of mine. That said, it was still something of a tough decision because I've worked my whole career . . . to build my own brand as a business reporter and economics commentator. So to get the opportunity to lead, I had to make the decision to step away from business reporting, at least full time, at precisely the moment that business reporters are probably needed most. My hope . . . is that I'll still be able to continue with that through my blog and my regular economics contributions on NPR."
  • The Freedom Forum staff included 38 percent people of color before a voluntary buyout claimed 19 staff members and it remained at 38 percent afterward, spokeswoman Susan Bennett told Journal-isms on Monday. She identified two who retired amid the cost-cutting that was reported on Friday: Jack Hurley, senior vice president/broadcast, and Rod Sandeen, vice president for administration and publications.
  • Aviation Week, which usually features equipment on its cover, shows a black woman on the front of its latest issue: Wanda Austin, president and CEO of Los Angeles-based Aerospace Corp. The company is helping to shape the future of military space policy, the story says. People of color are rarely seen in top positions in the aviation industry or in the magazine.
  • Veteran journalist Reginald Stuart, a recruiter for the McClatchy Co., has been quoted by the Associated Press and the Detroit Free Press on the auto industry financial crisis, the result of a book he wrote 28 years ago, "Bailout. The Story Behind America's Billion Dollar Gamble on the 'New' Chrysler Corporation." Stuart was the Detroit bureau chief and chief automotive writer for the New York Times in the late 1970s and covered the Chrysler Corp. government bailout for the paper. The book has been out of print for years, Stuart told Journal-isms, but "People are finding a few copies via Amazon and parts of it online."
  • In India, Jagajit Saikia, correspondent of the regional daily Amar Asom in Kokrajhar, was shot and killed Saturday in an area where separatist groups are active in the state of Assam, Reporters Without Borders said on Monday. Saikia is the second journalist to be killed in the past week in the northeast of India.
  • In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Radio Okapi journalist Didace Namujimbo was killed by a single shot to the head near his home in Bukavu, the capital of the eastern province of Sud-Kivu. His death comes 17 months after the fatal shooting of fellow Radio Okapi journalist Serge Maheshe in Bukavu, according to Reporters Without Borders.

Richard Prince's Journal-isms originates from Washington and is published Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It began in print before most of us knew what the Internet was, and it would like to be referred to as a "column." For newcomers: The words in blue (on most computers) are links leading to more information. The Web site provides passwords and user names to some registration-only news sites, but use may be illegal in some states. Any views expressed in the column are those of the person or organization quoted and not those of any other entity.

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RE: Johnson's New Network

Perhaps, Mr Johnson feels guilty, or feels as if he wasted many years with > those empty videos on BET. Is he aiming > for PBS - the African-American version, because I hate to tell him, it is > still about entertainment. Is he aiming for > the people who remember BET when they were in their 20's but now long for > some substance? But Johnson's cred is > so soiled with black people now; I don't see a comeback. > > Brian

Johnson, who founded and

Johnson, who founded and then sold the Black Entertainment Television network to Viacom for $3 billion in 2000, now owns the Charlotte, N.C., National Basketball Association franchise, the Bobcats. mpcoc

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